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Target Field: A Pitcher's Paradise No More

Target Field is often cited as a safe haven for pitcher's, but that narrative is no longer true.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

When Target Field first opened in 2010, everyone was excited. The fans were happy to have an outdoor ballpark that wasn't the Metrodome, the players were happy to be playing on grass, and ownership was happy to have a venue that would increase revenue.

After that first season though, it became clear that not everyone was pleased with the new field. Most notably lefthanded hitters were frustrated that their drives to the power alley in right-center, which normally would be home runs or at the very least ringing doubles off the wall, were instead becoming outs on the warning track. It sure seemed that Target Field was not built to benefit the hitters, as evidenced by the 0.641 home run park factor which was worst in the league in 2010.

If you're not familiar with park factors, they're a rather simple way to measure if a ballpark favors hitters or pitchers. ESPN tracks runs, home runs, hits, doubles, triples, and walks (yes, even those vary by ballpark) and the calculations are pretty easy to do. I'll use runs as an example. You take the sum of a team's home runs scored and home runs allowed and divide them by the sum of the team's road runs scored and road runs allowed. If the resulting number is larger than one, your ballpark favored hitters in terms of runs. If the number was less than one, then your home ballpark benefited the pitchers. Coors Field, well-regarded as a launching pad since it's a mile above sea level, has ranked either first or second for the past five seasons, so it appears as though it's a fairly reliable measure.

So, going back to that 2010 Target Field home run park factor of 0.641, that meant that the Twins hit roughly 50% more home runs on the road than they did at home that first year. Target Field just missed being in the bottom third of the league in runs (0.962) and we all believed that the architects had just opened Petco Park North. Now when a pitcher is signed, it's pretty typical to see the author cite that Target Field is a pitcher's park and that pitcher should benefit from coming to Minnesota.

Except... that's not true. At least, not anymore.

Yes, that 2010 season featured a dearth of big flies. However, if we look at the rest of Target Field's park factors, everything else was just slightly below-average to above-average. League ranks are included in parentheses next to the respective park factor.

Year R HR H 2B 3B BB
2010 0.962 (19) 0.641 (30) 0.996 (15) 1.097 (6) 1.171 (11) 1.061 (6)

As you can see, both the Twins and their opponents fared much better in the other offensive categories in spite of the lack of home runs and runs scored. Plus, an interesting trend started to develop over the last four years.

Year R HR H 2B 3B BB
2010 0.962 (19) 0.641 (30) 0.996 (15) 1.097 (6) 1.171 (11) 1.061 (6)
2011 0.944 (21) 0.913 (20) 1.010 (T11) 0.930 (22) 0.943 (15) 0.957 (24)
2012 1.044 (10) 1.031 (14) 1.030 (11) 0.989 (15) 1.905 (2) 1.082 (T3)
2013 1.020 (12) 0.802 (27) 1.027 (8) 1.117 (T5) 1.045 (15) 0.842 (30)
2014 1.116 (3) 1.022 (14) 1.080 (2) 1.075 (9) 1.407 (9) 1.079 (T5)

Looking at this data, Target Field doesn't come off as being primarily a pitcher's park. Yeah, the home runs have typically been in the bottom half over all five years, but everything else has been in the top half. I don't really care about the walks - it's bouncing all over the place, after all - but we see that the runs have been trending upward over the past three years. Hits, doubles, and triples are all pretty common relative to the rest of the league. It's just that pesky home run that doesn't feel like showing up at Target Field, and I think that makes plenty of sense. There may not be a lot of balls clearing the fence, but that just means they're still hitting the warning track and wall anyway. Those home runs we'd see in other ballparks are just turning into doubles and triples.

Last season the Twins signed Phil Hughes, whose biggest issue was giving up the long ball. He went on to post easily the best season of his career as his home run rate was cut significantly. The Twins also just brought Ervin Santana on board who has a similar profile to Hughes, and I bet he should see some improvement as well. But, calling Target Field a dream landing spot for a pitcher is a bit of a misnomer when the offenses are still able to score an above-average number of runs.

So, sorry everyone for ruining the narrative.